Before Duke left for Hawaii, we said that youth will be served, but if Duke is to win this tournament it will need leadership from the upperclassmen.
They really got it from Jack White, who finished with six points, seven rebounds and several floorburns, and Marques Bolden, whose best game at Duke was both terrific and timely.
Bolden, who was a non-factor in Canada in August, had 11 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks.
He also shot 4-5 and ran the floor brilliantly. What can you say? He was huge for Duke and we don’t mean the way he fills a doorframe. Bolden was a revelation.
White showed his usual hard edged game, his willingness to do the dirty work and to sublimate himself to the group. He’s a great captain.
A few more games like that though and Bolden might get promoted too.
Duke’s freshmen are hugely talented - #8 Auburn pushed Duke but never led and never really felt like a serious threat - but freshmen are freshmen. Magic Johnson was astonishing as a sophomore in 1979 but in 1978, he couldn’t get Michigan State past the Elite Eight.
So as promising and charismatic as Duke’s freshmen are, they’ll still have some ups and downs.
Cam Reddish was limited to seven minutes in the first half after picking up three first-half fouls (he had foul trouble the night before against San Diego State too).
Zion Williamson picked up an early one too and it seemed to limit him for a bit.
But even so Auburn never seemed to be a real threat.
That’s a good team too. It’s agile, quick and defends and shoots well. They might win a rematch.
Not Tuesday though.
Duke never trailed and whenever Auburn threatened, someone had the answer. RJ Barrett had a solid game again with 18 which Reddish matched, Tre Jones had his best offensive game for Duke, finishing with 10 points, six assists, four rebounds, one steal and just one turnover.
Auburn did cut the lead to five in the second half but for all the focus on Duke’s offensive explosiveness, the Blue Devils defended rather well. Barrett and Williamson see their defense overlooked due to their offensive brilliance and lately, Reddish has been a really good defender also. Whether it was Bolden blocking or Jones applying ball pressure or the overall D, Duke held Auburn to 36.4% overall and just 34.4% from deep.
The Tigers might have made that up from the line but didn’t get there enough and hit just 5-9 (Duke hit 23-34).
The spin on this game is likely to be hey, Duke wasn’t all that after all and that’s fine. Whatever.
The real spin on this game though should be this: hey, Duke is a really young team and on a night when offense wasn’t easy, it found a way to win on defense against a much more experienced and highly athletic team.
You might add that Duke saw Bolden emerge as more than just a big guy to plug in because he’s big because he was really, really good against Auburn.
So for a bit of perspective, Duke has now clobbered Kentucky, beat a gutty Army, destroyed Eastern Michigan (by the way, Rutgers just held that team to a four-point first half so don’t get too excited), dominated a solid San Diego State and was never seriously threatened by the #8 team in the country which had, as we suggested, a lot of advantages.
Even so, as Dean Smith was fond of pointing out from time to time, freshman are still freshmen which makes Bolden, White, Javin DeLaurier, Jordan Goldwire and Alex O’ Connell extremely important.
That’ll be even important on Wednesday in the Maui Finals.
- Marques Bolden shines as Duke men’s basketball beats Auburn to advance to Maui championship
- Duke basketball: Four games in, No. 1 Blue Devils look as good as advertised
- No, Zion Williamson and Duke are not the ‘villains’ of college basketball
- Even on an Off Night, Duke Still Looks Scary in Win Over Auburn
- Duke’s Coach K has a simple explanation for how his Blue Devils are able to be so good so early
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Player Of The Game vs. Auburn
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Alex O’ Connell
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